Summer Courses in Coral Reef Classrooms (yes, there will be SCUBA diving)

Students SCUBA dive in Bermuda at part of a summer course at BIOS

This summer BIOS is offering two unique courses focused on coral reef ecology, and both provide exceptional opportunities for university students to gain hands-on experience with modern research methods. Bermuda’s coral reefs provide spectacular underwater classrooms for SCUBA-certified students to experiment and study as they become the next generation of coral reef scientists and stewards.

In the Coral Reef Ecology: Reef Response to Environmental Change course, co-taught by BIOS faculty Dr. Eric Hochberg and Dr. Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, students will study how specific kinds of corals and entire reef ecosystems respond to climate change and intensifying environmental stressors.  Corals currently face a litany of human-caused stressors, including warming waters, ocean acidification, and nutrient pollution.  When stressors are compounded they can suppress coral growth rates, create opportunities for diseases to take hold, and cause corals to lose their symbiotic algae in bleaching events.  These threats have already severely damaged 30% of the world’s coral reefs, and close to 60% of reefs are considered in danger of being lost by 2030.

Both Dr. Goodbody-Gingley and Dr. Hochberg are highly skilled scientific divers who combine field and laboratory experiments in their own coral reef research at BIOS. Dr. Hochberg’s expertise in remote sensing and bio-optics provides unique insight into how ecosystem-wide processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, and calcification underpin coral reef health and are impacted by our changing climate.  Dr. Goodbody-Gringley uses technical diving and genetics in her research on coral reef connectivity and resilience, and takes great pride in helping students become efficient and safe scientific divers.

As the future of coral reefs hangs in the balance of human actions and changing climate, some of the reef’s most colorful and charismatic denizens – fish – also face loss of habitat, overfishing, and invasive species. How do reef fish communities contribute to the overall health of a coral reef? BIOS’s new Ecology and Evolution of Reef Fishes course will introduce students to the biology, behavior, and ecology of reef fish.  In the chaotic world of a coral reef, students will study how different kinds of fish find food, escape predators, win mates and provide their offspring with a shot at life on the reef. Students will learn fish anatomy and scientific classification on shore, and then apply their new skills out in the field as they identify and analyze the behavior of common reef fish.  In the lab they will use DNA to identify larval fish and become familiar with molecular research methods.

A student in BIOS's Coral Reef Ecology summer course conducts a transect on one of Bermuda's coral reefs

“I expect students will gain an appreciation for reef biodiversity, achieve proficiency in planning and conducting field and laboratory experiments, increase their understanding of how scientific knowledge is attained, and leave our course prepared for the next step in their career,” said Dr. Goodbody-Gringley, who is co-teaching the reef fishes course with Dr. Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences.

However, Dr. Goodbody-Gringley’s favorite part of teaching in the summer is seeing the students’ excitement for exploring the reef, and their hunger for knowledge.   With two courses being taught on Bermuda’s coral reefs this summer, there will be twice as many students discovering the beauty and complexity of coral reefs.  Hopefully, there will also be twice as many individuals ready to take the next step forward to discover what our reefs need to survive and thrive in the future.